By Tom James
Land Specialist, Whitetail Properties
Holding and growing healthy deer on the property you hunt is a labor of love, especially when it comes to mature bucks. While there’s always the chance a buck might spend time on your neighbor’s property, there are key strategies for maintaining quality whitetail habitat to keep that buck—and a few others—on your dirt.
Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) is the reduction or elimination of non-desirable flora species competing directly with the ones that should be encouraged. Eliminating competitive, lowvalue species results in positive influences across the entire ecosystem. Direct sunlight causes vigorous growth of nutritious forbs, weeds and saplings—all valuable food sources for a variety of wildlife, including whitetail. These same plants also conveniently double as ideal security cover for many wildlife species. Water, sunlight and nutrients that would otherwise be used by competing trees are instead channeled into the production of oaks and other mast producing species, boosting the production of high-quality and quantity hard mast crops for wildlife attraction and sustenance.
Hinge cutting is one of the most beneficial methods of TSI. This is cutting partially through a live, actively growing (competitive) tree and pushing or pulling it over to lay the trunk down horizontal to the ground. To encourage easy, natural movement (specifically by deer) under and among hinge-cut trees, the cut should be 4’ to 6’ above the ground. It is important not to cut any further through the trunk than necessary to ensure there is plenty of tissue to support movement of water and nutrients up and down the remaining trunk. When done properly, the tree will remain alive, retain its leaves and continue with new growth for years. The primary benefit of hinge cutting is eliminating the tree as a competitor for sunlight to surrounding desirable trees. Hinge cutting allows that tree to act as instant cover and possible browse for wildlife, greatly improving the overall ecosystem.
Work with a partner whenever possible and evaluate each tree and situation to ensure safety. Remember to enjoy every step. With a little sweat, elbow grease and time, you can have a long-lasting, substantial impact on the overall ecosystem, wildlife—and whitetails— around you. Sharing the outdoors and making habitat better is truly a special experience with family and friends.
For more information and detailed how-tos, check out the instructional Land Beat series at whitetailproperties.com/land-beat.